A national model for law practice development

School of Law opens Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator

At 4743 Troost Ave. in Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone, a national model for solo and small law firm development has opened its doors. Developed with assistance from The Missouri Bar Association and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s Solo Practitioner/Small Firms committee, the School of Law’s (SOL) Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator assists recent graduates entering solo and small firm practices.

Roxana Shaffe', office manager for the Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator, greets clients.

Roxana Shaffe’, office manager for the Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator, greets clients.

It will provide affordable office space for about nine tenants, as well as practice management assistance and mentoring so graduates can gain support in launching their own practices. At the same time, the Incubator will provide pro bono or affordable legal services to Kansas City’s underserved Troost area corridor.

“We believed this was a good idea when we first began developing it, and it is an even better idea today in light of economic factors and their impact on jobs for lawyers,” said School of Law Dean Ellen Suni. “We hope this program will serve as a national model for schools interested in finding ways to help their students and graduates start solo and small firm practices.”

In February, Dean Suni will speak at the National Conference of Bar Presidents Midyear Meeting about how the Incubator could be replicated.

Leading a trend

The facility features a training room.

The facility features a training room.

When he graduated from the UMKC School of Law in 1978, Alan Gallas said the best students typically joined large law firms. But about eight years ago, Gallas noticed a change when the School of Law contacted him about encouraging law student participation at The Missouri Bar Solo and Small Firm Conference. He then learned about the school’s solo and small firm curriculum, which eventually led to the Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator.

“It’s really unique — no one else is doing this,” said Gallas, a partner in the Kansas

Small conference areas are set up for informal meetings.

Small conference areas are set up for informal meetings.

City, Mo.-based Gallas & Schultz Law Firm and member of the Solo and Small Firm Incubator admissions committee. “Dean Suni’s efforts to integrate and encourage students to go into solo and small firm practice is innovative and on the cutting-edge. She is clearly a leader among law school deans who recognize the importance of preparing law students for solo and small firm practice.”

The law school also contacted John Rollins, a 1991 graduate, founder of The Rollins Law Firm and chairman of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s (KCMBA) Solo and Small Firm Committee. Serving as a liaison between the KCMBA and UMKC, Rollins adopted the Incubator as the KCMBA’s public service project. KCMBA donated furniture to the Incubator, and its members agreed to serve as mentors.

Quick Five: Mark Dunmire, Solo and Small Law Firm Tenant

1. When did you graduate from the School of Law and pass the Missouri Bar Exam?

I graduated in May of 2010 and passed the Missouri Bar Exam in July. In September, I was sworn into the Missouri Bar and the United States District Court of the Western District of Missouri.

2. Why did you apply to the Solo and Small Law Firm Incubator program?

From the time I enrolled in law school, I planned on opening my own firm. I came to law school from a career managing my family’s small aerospace manufacturing business, so I am passionate about small business. My family’s business helped my family to experience the “American Dream” for many years, and now I want to help other entrepreneurs start and run their own companies so that they may also share in the “American Dream”.

3. How has the recession affected your career plans?

I had this plan long before the great economic downturn. But the great recession has only strengthened my desire to help people start and run their own businesses.

4. What entrepreneurial courses did you complete?

I took a heavy business law curriculum and enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Lawyering: Solo and Small Firm Practice course, which required me to create a business plan for a small or solo firm. I have already done my homework, complete with a schedule, budget and financial projection. Now, all I have to do is implement it. It gives me a huge head start over attorneys who did not take part in or have access to this kind of program.

I also participated in the Entrepreneurial Lawyering: Solo and Small Firm Practice seminar series, Entrepreneurial and Legal Services Clinic and the Bloch School Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s Venture Creation Challenge.

5. How has UMKC’s entrepreneurial focus helped you?

I applaud the UMKC School of Law and Dean Ellen Suni for preparing students to start their own practices. I believe that UMKC School of Law does this to a much higher degree than other law schools. Also, UMKC is a true pioneer and the first law school in the nation with a Solo and Small Firm Incubator.

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